It is possible for a single person to engage in an act of resistance against oppression and change the world.
A 16-year-old Palestinian girl named Ahed Tamimi is such an individual. On December 19, in a simple yet profound act of defiance against the occupation, she slapped Israeli soldiers who had entered the yard of her house. Just hours earlier members of the Israeli armed forces had shot her teenage cousin Mohammed in the face with a rubber-coated bullet. The young boy was placed in a medically induced coma as doctors operated on him to remove the bullet fragments embedded in his skull.
Much like American civil rights icon Rosa Parks – who was arrested six decades ago by breaking the law for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man – Tamimi has become the face of a nonviolent movement against injustice.
Ahed Tamimi is from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, where Israelis have confiscate the villagers’ water source and land and built settlements. The village of 600 has regularly protested these encroachments, and the Israeli army has shot, maimed and killed Ahed’s family members.
The Israeli authorities arrested Ahed, and an Israeli military court indicted her, with prosecutors portraying her as a terrorist. She could remain in prison until the end of her trial, and, if convicted, she could serve up to 10 years in prison. Ahed’s mother, Nariman faces five charges, including incitement for posting the incident on Facebook.
Israeli military tribunals have a conviction rate nearing 100 percent.
The real crime this 16-year-old Palestinian girl committed was resisting a hostile and racist military occupation and its human rights violations, and having the temerity to challenge the toxic masculinity of the Israeli military. This has made her the target of ridicule, with Israelis giving her the nickname “Shirley Temper”, and chalking up the incident to “Pallywood” (Palestinian “propaganda” discreding Israel). there have been accusations that the Palestinians such as Ahed stage hoax incidents wearing “American clothes” to garner support among Americans and other Western audiences.
One Israeli journalist, Ben Caspit, called for her rape and murder, saying: “In the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras.” Member of the Knesset Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the US, accused the Tamimi family of using their children as “pawns” in a propaganda war, and suggested that Ahed may not even be their daughter.
As Martin Luther King, Jr – whose birthday is celebrated today – wrote in “Letter From Birmingham Jail (pdf)” an unjust law “is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.” Just as people have a legal and moral responsibility to obey just laws, King argued, “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”.
On a December day in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a public bus to a white man, breaking the local racial segregation law requiring black people to sit in the back of public transportation vehicles. Her arrest triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a yearlong boycott of the city bus system by African Americans, of which King was a leader. Ultimately, this boycott led to the US Supreme Court ruling the segregation of Montgomery public transportation unconstitutional. Parks’ arrest was the catalyst for a movement.
“Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust,” King said. “All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”
Like Rosa Parks before her, Ahed Tamimi is struggling against unjust laws, in her case the injustice of a 50-year military occupation that denies Palestinians their land, right to travel and self-determination. Israel maintains an apartheid system of democracy for Israeli Jews – and discrimination against Israelis of colour – second-class citizenship for Israeli citizens of Arab descent, and dispossession and disenfranchisement for Palestinian Arabs in the territories.
Consider that Israel is the only nation that systematically detains and prosecutes children in a military court system lacking the right of due process. The Israeli military detains hundreds of Palestinian children between the ages of 12-17 every year (pdf), including many who are locked up for throwing stones – something that would never happen to Israeli children. Palestinian children face mistreatment by the military, according to Defense for Children International-Palestine, with 75 percent subjected to physical violence upon arrest, and 97 percent interrogated without a parent present.
UNICEF calls the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in military detention “widespread, systematic and institutionalised,” (pdf) and according to the US Department of State, Palestinian children are tortured through “beatings, long-term handcuffing, threats, intimidation, and solitary confinement.”
Further, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) found that last December, at least 345 Palestinian children were injured by the Israeli military, of which over a third involved live ammunition. The Israeli military has killed at least 32 Palestinian children in 2016. This, from a force which calls itself “the most moral army” in the world.
In Israel’s apartheid system of justice, Palestinians face the army, but West Bank Jewish settlers face civil courts. A West Bank settler teen who beat a left-wing rabbi and human rights activist at knifepoint received community service. Yifat Alkobi, a Jewish West Bank settler who slapped a soldier who tried to stop her from throwing stones, was released on bail the same day she was arrested and sent home. Prior to the incident, she had been convicted five times for disorderly conduct, throwing rocks and assaulting a police officer, yet never faced jail time. And Eliraz Feiz, another settler who called for violent action, even lethal force against Palestinians and Israeli soldiers was sentenced to five months community service.
Israel threatens Ahed Tamimi with years in prison because they fear her power, the power of a resistance movement to the occupation that has gained momentum. The BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) supported by Palestinian civil society is working, creating a backlash and a blacklist in which the Israeli government has banned such human rights groups as the American Friends Service Committee – which saved Jews from Nazi Germany – and Jewish Voice for Peace from entering Israel.
Meanwhile, the extremist right-wing, ethno-nationalist settler regime of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the white nationalist government of Donald Trump have no intentions of allowing a just peace settlement of the conflict. Israel seized 1012 hectares of Palestinian land in 2017, a threefold increase in settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem over the previous year.
At the same time, the Palestinian population is expected to soon surpass the number of Jews in Israel and the occupied territories. With the two-state solution now impossible, we will be left with only two alternatives: a fully democratic state in which Palestinians have citizenship and equal rights to Jewish Israelis, or what is taking place now, an apartheid state where one group rules the other.
The continuation of the status-quo is unacceptable. Whatever form self-determination takes for the Palestinians, the injustice of the occupation must end. And youth like Ahed Tamimi are leading the resistance that will eventually make the Israeli apartheid regime crumble. Ahed is the Rosa Parks of Palestine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.